PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Fresh': They're Comfortable and They Eat

Speaking passionately in Ana Sofia Joanes' film both Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan make a case that seems obvious: fresh food is better for you.


Director: Ana Sofia Joanes
Cast: Michael Pollan, George Naylor, Joel Salatin, Will Allen
Rated: NR
Studio: Specialty Studios
Year: 2009
US date: 2011-06-06 (Maysles Cinema)
We just want, want, want.

-- Will Allen

"Chickens," says Joel Salatin, are our "fellow workers, alongside of us. We allow them to fully express their chickenness." Salatin knows from chickenness -- as well as cowness, pigness, and tomoatoness, all part of an essential balance that industrial farming disrupts daily.

Salatin's own Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia models another approach in the documentary Fresh, not to mention Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Speaking passionately in Ana Sofia Joanes' film -- which screens 6 June at Maysles Cinema, followed by a discussion -- both Salatin and Pollan make a case that seems obvious: fresh food is better for you. Still, they face an uphill battle, as American food production has for so long pursued quantity over quality. Repeated shots of hundreds of cows crowded into feeding warehouses illustrate Salatin's concern that "feeding dead cows to cows" makes the live ones grow faster, but also undermines their existence as herbivores, makes them and the rest of us sick (he cites mad cow disease as but one dire consequence).

The film offers as well as a pair of chicken farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Fox. Unable to fight off the industrials, they've accepted terms for their farm in Rison, Arkansas, producing chickens for Herbine Poultry. And they look downright guilty about it, as they speak from their sofa, heavily shadowed with white poodles in their laps. "They're comfortable and they eat," they say of their products, not because of steroids, but just because they can. A series of awful images -- chicks dumped by the basket-load onto wide warehouse floors, cheep-cheep-cheeping as they hit the hard dirt --- are awful to look at. Worse, the sequence is framed by the cringe-making interview with the Foxes, their faces grim and their answers curt. They feed their chickens mixes designed by nutritionists, they say. When the off-screen questioner asks, "Do you know what's in the mix?" they have only a vague answer: "Some antibiotics, just for the health of the chicks."

The "health of the chicks" is only at risk, says Salatin, because they're warehoused and packaged, removed from any sort of natural interactions, where birds and livestock and plants all interact in a food chain. "Monocultures," notes Pollan, "are very dangerous things." As ailments and pests afflict the product, you "need to use antibiotics to keep them alive." The antibiotics, in turn, weed out the weaker strains of bacteria and help to strengthen others. And so the cycle begins.

As Salatin explains the problems in production, Pollan cites the unhealthy products, processed foods that may be inexpensive and plentiful, but also have "all the nutrients... expunged, basically." As he notes that "Cheap food is an illusion," you see a montage of the usual suspects -- Cocoa Puffs, Sunbeam white bread, Kool-Aid Bursts (who even knew these existed?), and of course, Taco Bell. Such chemical concoctions, Pollan reminds you, only appear "cheap." They all have inevitable costs down the road -- in human health, in the environment, and in the culture.

It's true, says Pollan, that "organic food" is expensive and processed food seems convenient , but the entire system of production and consumption is now built backwards and is, he says, plainly "unsustainable." Government subsidies support manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup, but not "healthy, fresh produce." And entire populations are relegated to living in "food deserts," where they're inundated with processed foods but "can't find an apple." Within this closed circle, where only a "small number of companies are controlling the industrial food chain from seed to plate," the class divide can only expand: poor people succumb and rich people benefit.

The answer, according to Fresh, is an organized, step by step resistance, as politicized and as organized as any other sort of social movement. At the forefront are organic farmers like Salatin and activists and teachers like Will Allen, an urban farmer in Milwaukee whose Growing Power shows students how to grow their own food even in the smallest of spaces. "My father was a sharecropper," Allen explains, who puts together that background with his early career training in "sales technology" with Procter & Gamble, in order to inspire and train up informed producer-consumers.

Drawing from the heartening stories of Salatin and Allen, Fresh encourages viewers to participate as well. If the film is making a common sense case with regard to nutrition, it's also making a less obvious case concerning politics. Industrial farming is about profits, but it's also about choices, Fresh argues. And citizens can feel responsible.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.